Monday, April 2, 2012

Steampunk Hair

Ever since I first started putting together a steampunk costume, I've been concerned with what to do with my hair.  I had long hair for most of my life, but finally cut it short several years ago and have no desire to go back.  But a short bob doesn't quite look right with Victorian clothing.  I really wanted some sort of impressive Victorian updo.  I've found different solutions to the hair problem over the years, and I've done a lot of research on the subject.  And finally I am ready to share the results of my search with everyone.

First, there are some really good tutorials out there on how to achieve Victorian hairstyles.  These are slightly unhelpful for me since they mostly require either longer hair than I have or better hairdressing skills.  (I am really not good at doing hair.  This is part of my problem.)

The Seamstress of Avalon has a great series of tutorials on Victorian hairstyles:

The Gibson Girl  

Civil War Hair

Late Victorian Hair (Using a Hairpiece)

Edwardian Hair

There's an interesting tutorial on doing a mock Gibson Girl with shorter hair on the livejournal group Vintage Hair.  That community isn't as active anymore, but it's a good source for inspiration on various vintage hair looks.  There are a bunch of tutorials of varying quality and varying time period there.  (Especially good for dieselpunk looks.)

Finally, here's a tutorial for doing a "Gibson Tuck."  I've managed this style with my above shoulder length hair, and there are different ways you can finish this style, depending on your hair length.  This is also a good style for wearing with hats.

So, I've personally experimented with a few different things.  As I said, I'm not skilled at ALL at hair styling, don't even own basic hair tools like a curling iron, and hate to spend a lot of time getting ready.  So for anything to work for me it has to be pretty idiot-proof and quick.  Also my hair is really fine and completely straight.  After attending an inspiring hair styling panel at Clockwork Con, I bought some rollers and tried putting up my hair wet to get a curl.  When I took the rollers out I had beautiful spiral curls.  Twenty minutes later my hair was almost totally straight.  It will not hold a curl and never has.

The back of my head with hairpiece.

So I've come to rely mostly on hairpieces.  The first hairpiece I bought was the Lavinia from Amphigory.  For $12 it was a really nice piece.  I love that it comes in streaked multicolors because I managed to get something that matched my hair really well.  And it's about as easy to use as possible.  It's a drawstring piece, so you put your hair up in a bun or small pony, put the drawstring over it, tighten, and pin in place.

A view from the side

But I've always had a problem with this piece.  It still looks like I'm wearing a ponytail, and ponytails don't really scream 'Victorian.'   My next move was to buy a full wig and try to style it into an updo.  I bought a long, wavy wig and set out to learn all I could about wig styling.  I managed to get the wig into a couple of nice-looking Victorian updos.  But once I had the wig styled, it was too small for my head, being already on the smallish side.  (I have a large head...)  Plus, it was really hot and uncomfortable.  I put the wig aside, dejected.

Wearing my $5 ebay bun.
I attended an EXCELLENT panel on Period Hair Styles at Clockwork Con given by the burlesque dancer Talloolah Love.  She demonstrated an awesome Gibson Girl style made using a 1/2 wig and also a few other techniques.  I was inspired and determined to somehow use my wig to do this style.  I tried, didn't go particularly well.  I remembered too late that I'm crap at styling hair, and decided that even if I managed to end up with something decent, it would take hours to get ready at a con and that's unacceptable to me.  (For someone good at hair, it might take 10 minutes.  But that's not me.)  But I was still determined to find some alternatives.

My hairfall style from Nightmare machine.
I bought a really cheap bun hairpiece off ebay.  It wasn't exactly what I wanted, but the prices jump from $5 to almost $40, so I went with a cheap one.  Sometimes, it even ends up looking decent.  Then I found a long, wavy, claw-clip hairpiece at a flea market.  It was $3, and I couldn't pass it up.  (The vendor had a bunch, obviously cheaply made, but for $3?  I might have to go back and pick up a few.)  Because this piece was really long and not as tightly curled as my other one, I wanted to try to use it to make some more Victorian looking styles.  So last week I finally tried it out, the day before a con.  I put my hair up in a little bun and clipped the piece over it.  The piece has layers, so I picked out some of the shorter layers and formed them into little curls and bobby pinned those to my head, sort of like pin curls.  I pinned several of these on top of my head in front on the hairpiece, to reduce the severe ponytail look.  I pinned a couple of bunches of curls to the side of my head, so they were more forward.  And then I grabbed a big hunk of hair and wrapped it loosely around the claw clip and pinned it in place to make a high, flat bun.  This left quite a bit of loose curls to fall down my back and over my shoulder, and I loved the effect.  The only problem was that the piece didn't match my hair color because my last red dye job faded so quickly, so I sent my husband on an emergency hair dye mission.  I did manage to recreate this style on Saturday for the con.

Finally I did attend another panel on Steampunk Hair Friday night.  It focused on fairly simple-to-do styles, and the presenter (Karen Weaver) showed us several variations on the Gibson tuck style.  I offered myself as a guinea pig, and got the following style.    Now I just have to recreate it.
If you're interested in seeing more examples of Victorian hair and some more tutorials that I think could work well for steampunk, check out my Steampunk Hair board on Pinterest.


  1. If only everybody with success with steampunk hair would write such a good post as this! Thank you.

  2. Do you have any suggestions for us ladies with REALLY short hair? I donated mine for.cancer wigs (it used to hit the back of my knees) and my hair is maybe four inches long. on the sides. lol I am okay with hair, but wigs hate my head.

    1. Well, not really. Unless you can get a clip-in hairpiece to sit in your hair, I'd say you probably have to stick to hats or fascinators. Maybe some decorated pins to hold your hair back?

  3. facebook isn't a "comment as" option- I go by tamseer. I'm really new to the steampunk world (not even five months "old"). I'm trying to research all that I can while I pull together several ideas that are floating around in my head. These tutorials should be a great help. I'm SO glad I found your site!